Just the 2 of Us – The Lost Art of Playing Together

So I had a friend come round last night for a retro gaming evening, and in advance I asked what I should setup. He said anything. So I thought we may as well play it by ear and see how we got on as the evening went on. When he arrived, I was playing The Witness on Xbox One. I got to explaining the premise of the game and how the puzzles worked but I could see a total lack of interest from him in this modern classic. He had heard that I had recently started adding more games to my SNES Mini Classic and wanted to see what was there. Pitfall caught his eye as one that he thinks he had played as a kid. So I booted it up, started playing, and it actually wasn’t one he remembered after all. We decided to stick with it anyway, and the first thing he remarks upon is how good the game actually looks. It still holds up very well today, with great back and foreground, and the animation of all characters is just top notch for a mid 90s 16-bit game.

I lose a life, so pass him the pad and he gives it a go. Within 30 seconds he knows exactly what the controls are and what he needs to be doing. We’re struggling though. What looks like a leopard at the end of the first level is kicking our asses and we know we’re not going to go any further considering how big the library of games is that we have at our beck and call. A good start though, and the next thing that catches his eye is Disney’s Aladdin. He tells me he hasn’t even seen the movie! I grit my teeth and start the game up.

We have a lot more success with this one. I’ve been completed it a few times myself anyway over the years, he’s never actually played it though and like Pitfall, the control scheme just seems to fall nicely into his hands. He understands the method of using the sheet to float when jumping, and gets how the apples work in dazing enemies for enough time to be able to get an attack in. He hates Abu though. “Why’s there a ****ing monkey following me?” He hasn’t seen the movie. He’s enjoying the game though and again, we talk about the animation and how good the backgrounds look. It seems the majority of gamers prefer the Mega Drive version but not me, I’m SNES Aladdin all the way.

Boredom settles in again and we decide it’s time to move on from the platform genre and he spots that I have Turtles in Time. Time to kick some shell. We’re already laughing at the intro sequence with the poorly written dialogue and hammy plot, but once we get settled into ‘Big Apple, 3 AM’ shit gets serious. All hell is breaking loose, pizzas are being eaten both in-game and in the living room, and foot soldiers are getting a foot up their own ass. We’re enjoying the co-op so much, it’s great to just get an opportunity to play this classic with a friend for the first time in years. Single player mode is OK, but when that second player presses START, it’s an all-round different experience. We find the first boss Baxter Stockman easy to take down, but Slash definitely stands out as a highly difficult boss. Featured at the end of the ‘Prehistoric Turtlesaurus’ level, he is just a very hard nut to crack, with what felt like very few frames of animation to be able to get successful attacks in. Leatherhead was another tricky one for my mate. I had his pattern down but my chum just couldn’t seem to get the timing right on attacking him. Super Shredder was surprising as we expected him to of course be the tricky bugger of the entire game but once you figured out you just need to have a turtle at his back when he attacks, it becomes an extremely easy battle to win.

We’re on a high. We had a great experience playing through TIT (heh), and I told him there was a remastered version of it on the 360 which he’d never heard about. Time to get the 360 turned on. I get the ‘re-shelled’ version of Turtles in Time started, and it’s been about 8 years since I last played it. It looks so freakin’ fantastic and is a wonderful homage to the original but we both comment on how something just doesn’t feel right with the controls. Some of the game feels slower, some of it feels faster, it’s hard to put out finger on where it’s not quite right. Of course, Krang appears at the side of the scaffolding ready to beam his eye lasers in at us and we both comment on how much better it looks this time round. It’s an excellent moment in the first level of both the SNES and Arcade which was sadly lost in the Mega Drive’s Hyperstone Heist.

We play through the first level of the 360 version and decide we’ve not got the patience for another playthrough. He notices I had Sensible World of Soccer 96-97 in my 360 library and wants to play me at it. I warn him immediately that I will kick his ass as I am a major SWOS fanboy and won’t be able to hold back. After a bit of annoyance with the awkward menus, we finally settle down for a bit of Liverpool vs Arsenal, Fowler vs Bergkamp, Seaman vs James. He holds his own very well for the first game actually, with me only managing to squeeze out a tight 1-0 victory. We replay the fixture though and I pull out a 4-1 victory this time, with a couple of set-pieces thrown in for good measure. I hadn’t played SWOS with someone on the same screen for about 5 years so again, a pleasure to do it.

I’m going through my 360 titles and I notice Trials HD. My mate has never heard of it so it gets loaded. Immediately he can see the attraction to such a game. It looks really fluid and has a great pick up and play mechanic about it. I offer him a go of one of the easy levels but he declines. I start up the hill mini-game which has you as the biker trying your best to manoeuvre up an extremely steep level. It’s bloody difficult trying to maintain the right balance for your rider to not go tits up, and suddenly my chum decides he wants to have a go. I say he’s insane to try this, and of course, I’m right. He struggles to get even a few metres up the hill. However, I remember the broken bones mini-game where you have to fling your biker down a large area filled with glass, barrels, fire and other obstacles, with the ultimate aim being to break as many bones in your riders body. It sounds horrific, but you play it and can’t help but crack up at the groans and moans the biker makes as his body bounces around the level in the most disgusting ways, smashing through glass whilst oil drums come crashing down on him. It’s also easy to play and my compadre laps up the vile but hilarious gameplay attached to it.

We finish up on Trials HD and it’s time for him to shoot off for the night. We had a blast playing through the games that we did, and we interspersed the evening with videos from the Boundary Break Youtube channel and clips of Daniel Negreanu reading his opponents hands in poker like an absolute wizard. It had been a long time since I had a friend come round with the sole intention of just chilling out playing a few games and it was enjoyable. I tell you what as well, there’s no way I would have ever garnered the same satisfaction if we had done this online. We could have played a Call of Duty title online or a sports game like FIFA, and there’s no way we’d have enjoyed it as much as we did being in the same room together. There’s something about that physical presence and being able to visually pick up on each others reaction to something that just happened on-screen which lends itself well to a fun session of gaming.

What it’s all about

It’s a definite lost art this whole getting people in the same room to play from the same screen. I get it with handhelds, but consoles have lost that ‘togetherness’ that comes from having mates around to play a few games of whatever. We’ve become encouraged to separate ourselves from one another and just be a voice in each other’s ears. It’s good for the ease of it of course, but it causes the same problem as what does keeping in touch with each other through our mobile phone devices. It’s just too easy to drop a text to someone, or send a GIF image through Facebook messenger rather than pick up the phone and actually call the same person up.

He leads a lonely life

I’m not going to go so far as saying that NO developer has ignored this classic trope of gaming. If you’ve ever played Screencheat, you’ll see there’s still some companies out there who are having fun playing round with the split-screen method of playing games. It’s definitely more of a minority who are getting these simple pleasures these days however. Games like Fortnite, Overwatch, Team Fortress Classic, they’re just too fast-paced and involved to be able to just plonk yourself down with 3 friends and get a split-screen going. HD graphics have brought immense detail which would make having one corner of a 50″ TV very difficult to play with. Yet we didn’t have the same issue with Goldeneye on the N64 and many of us reminisce about experiences playing 4-player Bond back in our school days. Whilst technology has brought along some truly innovative experiences, it has also meant a lot of us who still hanker for more of the simpler ways of playing have been left behind.

I’d go hungry on school lunches if it meant I could get another game of this in

Gamesmaster magazine recently asked on Facebook, “When the next generation of consoles comes around (say a PS5 and an Xbox Two), what features would you want to see them have?” I stated, “I’d like them to take away internet accessibility so we can finally have developers take care in releasing finished products, and it would also encourage them to bring back local multiplayer again, something sorely missing in today’s grey gaming landscape.” I loved how back in the good ol’ days, developers were forced to delay games because they found issues with them and wouldn’t dare release with bugs and glitches in them. Today, games do get released with these problems with the promise of a day-1 patch ready to download to fix them. It shouldn’t be like this. We should be getting the finished article straight away. We wouldn’t let movie studios get away with it, or big budget TV shows, why do we afford developers this luxury?

Console gaming shouldn’t be this way : (

My comment about taking away internet accessibility is genuine as well, despite how many of you must think I’m absolutely insane to suggest such a thing. With the exception of the Satellaview, the Super Nintendo had no such internet browsing access, and how many games do you remember being released incomplete? Remember that Capcom game that got released where the developer had to send out a new cartridge to all buyers because of a serious glitch in the initial batch? No, you don’t, because it never happened because those guys ensured their product was as good as they felt they could make it, and were happy to call it their final release. Goldeneye and Mario Kart are potentially the two multi-player games remembered fondly more than any other in the history of video gaming, and they were both enjoyed mostly on consoles that did not afford the ability to go online.

Happier times : )

Take the chance and invite friends around. If you can get some split-screen gaming on the go, do it! It’s still a fantastic experience for a bunch of beer swilling buffoons whether it’s one of the Mario Party series, Unirally, Sonic the Hedgehog 2, PS1 Doom, International Track and Field, you’re bound to have more laughs with each other rather than if you were all disembodied voices at the end of a microphone. It’s not to say modern-day online gaming is absolute crap, because it’s not. It’s just not as magical as it is in person, together.

Catch me choosing the first party pad @auto2112